One’s work environment, broadly considered, includes physical space, conditions, resources available, and safety, in addition to more “nebulous” aspects such as culture, relationships, hierarchy, and attitudes. Workplace environment and culture subsequently influence employee motivation, happiness, productivity, and efficiency. How well do you perform a job when your work environment is poor? As healthcare professionals, it is imperative that we be mindful of how our work environment affects our ability to perform our job, and its impact on our ability to make improvements in patient care. According to surveys referenced on Formstack’s blog, 53% of surveyed employees are less productive when their work environment is simply too cold for their tastes, and another study revealed that 85% of employees surveyed are not engaged at work, leading to an estimated $7 trillion in lost productivity.1 As healthcare professionals, we cannot afford for employees to be disengaged from their duties, or disgruntled by a poor work environment, when patient care is involved.
Working in healthcare can be stressful. A poor work environment can compound that stress, and too much stress can negatively impact one’s physical and mental health, leading to a loss of productivity. In a laboratory, this can have a cyclical effect. For instance, if there are 25 team members to cover collection, processing, and testing, and 3 team members call in due to factors associated with the stress of the job, and 3 more call in due to acute illness, this leaves 19 team members to handle the workload. The lab then needs to prioritize: inpatient testing would take priority over the specimens that arrive from other sites for testing. The inpatient workload is completed, an eight-hour shift ends, and now the workload that arrived from other sites is waiting for the next shift, in addition to the workload they already must maintain. The added workload can place further stress on the next shift, possibly prompting future absences, and the cycle starts again.
Many laboratory managers and supervisors have noted workplace culture and employee disengagement as an issue, but may struggle with how to stop the trend. Leaders are tasked with many duties. It is common to want to try and fix everything at once, but is that a reasonable approach? Strong, fair leadership that promotes learning from mistakes rather than punishing those who make them is imperative to creating and sustaining a work environment that supports patient safety.2
A book by Cy Wakeman, entitled No Ego, suggests modifying the “open door” policy many managers employ to encourage feedback and communication from their team members. Instead of having team members bring forth a concern and rely on the manager to fix it, Cy Wakeman suggests asking the team member, “What ideas do you have to address this concern you’re bringing?” This may initially be met with a blank stare or look of confusion, but if the concern is bonafide, it will likely surface again in the future, perhaps in a team meeting or huddle. The manager can record all the concerns communicated and place them into categories, ultimately using this approach to create small groups tasked with finding solutions. Seasoned team members act as the “point” person to manage the small group work. This “grass roots” approach builds leadership skills and problem-solving talent in all team members, allowing them to make decisions that directly impact them at their workplace, increase engagement, and improve job satisfaction.3
There are many factors that contribute to a work environment, however, workplace culture is noted to have a significant impact. Changing a workplace culture does not happen overnight and it takes constant persistence from the leader to keep innovation and ideas flowing.
1“Workplace Productivity Statistics That Will Blow Your Mind.” Formstack.com, 8 Aug. 2019, www.formstack.com/blog/2019/workplace-productivity-statistics/.
2National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2015). Improving Diagnosis in Health Care. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
3Cy Wakeman. No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2017.